Drone Law: Model Aircraft Not Subject to FAA Online Registration Requirement

Drone Law

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In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) adopted a rule regarding online registration of drones which required that all “small unmanned aircraft” register with the FAA.  This rule encompassed all drones, including model aircraft.  However, in a recent decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (Taylor v. Huerta, Case No. 15-1495), the Court has held that the online registration rule is not applicable to “model aircraft”.

The Taylor court agreed with the plaintiff, John A. Taylor, in holding that the 2015 online registration rule violated Section 336(a) of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 which held that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft” if the aircraft is: (1) flown for hobby or recreational use; (2) operated in accordance with community based safety guidelines; and (3) is limited to certain size specifications and is operated in a way that does not interfere with manned aircraft.  A “model aircraft” is defined by Section 336(c) of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act as an unmanned aircraft that is: (1) capable of sustained flight; (2) is flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and (3) is flown for hobby or recreational purposes.

It should be noted that the Taylor court’s decision was specifically limited to model aircraft and does not affect the registration of drones which do not fit the definition of a model aircraft and are not used for hobby or recreational purposes.  The FAA is considering whether to further appeal the decision.  There is also a possibility that the FAA could issue new rules to clarify what type of drones are covered by the online registration rule.  If Congress desired, they could also pass legislation to specifically address the issue.  If you have a question as to whether you are required to register your drone or any other drone-related matter, please contact Fred Hatton or Michelle T. Sundgaard at Pickrel, Schaeffer & Ebeling 937-223-1130.

AUTHOR: David Montgomery